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Rue-leaved Saxifrage

Saxifraga tridactylites

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Saxifragaceae (Saxifrage)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
15 centimetres tall
Cliffs, gardens, grassland, rocky places, sand dunes, walls, wasteland.

White, 5 petals
White, bell-shaped, solitary flowers, 4 to 6mm across. The petals are slightly notched. 10 stamens. 2 styles.
The fruits are 2-parted and egg-shaped.
An annual flower 3 to 5-lobed, fleshy leaves, often narrower towards the base. The leaves are often reddish (stained by the sun). The stems are zigzagged and stickily hairy. Usually seen growing on sandy or limy ground.
Other Names:
Nailwort, Rockfoil, Rueleaf Saxifrage, Three-toed Saxifrage, White Blow, Whitlow Grass.
Frequency (UK):
Occasionally seen  

Other Information


Saxifraga tridactylites, also known as three-toed saxifrage or rockfoil, is a perennial herbaceous plant that is native to the Arctic and subarctic regions of Europe and Asia. It is a small plant that typically grows to be only a few inches tall. It has basal leaves that are typically green to gray-green in color and it produces clusters of small, white or pink flowers that bloom in spring and summer. It is often used as a ground cover or rock garden plant, and prefers well-drained soils in full sun to partial shade. The name "tridactylites" refers to the shape of the leaves which are divided into three segments. It is also known as a hardy plant, suitable for harsh environments, and can withstand cold and dry conditions.


Saxifraga tridactylites, commonly known as Rue-leaved Saxifrage, is a small and delicate herbaceous plant that is native to Europe and parts of Asia. It is a member of the Saxifragaceae family and is often found growing in rocky habitats, such as cliffs, ledges, and walls.

The name "Rue-leaved Saxifrage" refers to the plant's leaves, which are shaped like those of the herb Rue (Ruta graveolens). The leaves are divided into three finger-like lobes, giving the plant a unique appearance that makes it easy to identify. The leaves are also covered in small, soft hairs that give them a slightly fuzzy texture.

Rue-leaved Saxifrage is a perennial plant that typically grows to a height of 5-15cm (2-6 inches) and has a spread of around 15cm (6 inches). It produces small, star-shaped flowers that are white or pale pink in color and bloom from May to July. The flowers are held above the foliage on slender stems and are an important source of nectar for bees and other pollinators.

In addition to its ornamental value, Rue-leaved Saxifrage has a long history of use in traditional medicine. The plant was used by the ancient Greeks and Romans to treat a variety of ailments, including coughs, colds, and digestive disorders. In modern times, it is still used in some herbal remedies and is said to have diuretic, anti-inflammatory, and antispasmodic properties.

Despite its many virtues, Rue-leaved Saxifrage is not widely cultivated and can be difficult to grow in a garden setting. It prefers well-drained soil and a sunny or partially shaded location, and may require protection from harsh winter weather. If you are lucky enough to have this charming plant growing in your area, take the time to appreciate its delicate beauty and the important role it plays in supporting pollinators and other wildlife.

Rue-leaved Saxifrage is an important component of many rock gardens, alpine gardens, and wildflower meadows. Its delicate appearance and interesting foliage make it a popular choice for gardeners looking to add a unique and unusual plant to their landscape.

One of the most interesting things about Rue-leaved Saxifrage is its ability to thrive in harsh environments. Because it is adapted to growing in rocky, nutrient-poor soils, it can be a valuable addition to green roofs and other urban landscapes where traditional garden plants may struggle to survive.

In addition to its horticultural and medicinal uses, Rue-leaved Saxifrage also has cultural and historical significance. In some cultures, the plant is associated with love and is believed to have the power to attract good fortune and ward off evil spirits. It has also been used in religious ceremonies and as a source of inspiration for artists and poets.

Like many wild plants, Rue-leaved Saxifrage is vulnerable to habitat loss and other threats. The destruction of rocky habitats and the use of pesticides and herbicides can have a negative impact on the plant and the wildlife that depends on it. To protect and conserve this important species, it is important to support efforts to protect wild habitats, reduce the use of harmful chemicals, and promote sustainable land management practices.

In summary, Rue-leaved Saxifrage is a small but fascinating plant that has much to offer to gardeners, herbalists, and wildlife enthusiasts alike. With its unique appearance, interesting history, and important ecological role, this unassuming plant is a valuable addition to any landscape.

Another interesting aspect of Rue-leaved Saxifrage is its role in rock gardens and alpine plant communities. These habitats are often characterized by extreme temperature fluctuations, intense sunlight, and low nutrient availability, making them a challenging environment for many plant species. However, Rue-leaved Saxifrage is well-suited to these conditions and is often found growing alongside other alpine plants, such as Sedums, Lewisias, and Alpine Columbines.

In addition to its aesthetic and ecological value, Rue-leaved Saxifrage also has a place in scientific research. The plant's ability to tolerate extreme conditions and its unique morphology make it a valuable model organism for studies of plant physiology and adaptation to stress. For example, researchers have used Rue-leaved Saxifrage to study the effects of high altitude on plant growth and the mechanisms that allow plants to survive in nutrient-poor soils.

Despite its many benefits, Rue-leaved Saxifrage is not commonly found in cultivation and may be difficult to obtain. However, for those who are able to grow it, the plant can be a rewarding addition to a rock garden or alpine planting scheme. With its delicate foliage, beautiful flowers, and rich cultural and ecological significance, Rue-leaved Saxifrage is a plant that is sure to capture the imagination of gardeners, herbalists, and plant enthusiasts alike.


Rue-leaved Saxifrage filmed at Duxbury, Lancashire on the 26th March 2023, and also at Hampsfell, Cumbria on the 16th April 2023.


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